The last couple of weeks of election campaigns are usually dominated by potential coalition arrangements. Even though National may not need any coalition partners this time, the question of 'who will dance with who' is still likely to be a major theme until election day. While many parties try to fudge the issue, voters quite rightly want to know what kind of government their vote will end up supporting. Below is a quick run down of the options.
Assuming that Peter Dunne survives this time, this is likely to be his last term. He won't want to spend his last years in opposition and so will continue to be the most compliant and submissive of coalition partners and do whatever it takes to be in Government. This means not making too much noise and not making any real demands. Currently iPredict has says there's an 84% chance of Dunne being a minister.
The Maori Party are adopting many leftish policies this election, but their big problem is that few - if any - will see the light of day if they go back into coalition with National. Their $16 minimum wage policy looks decidedly wishful given National's plan to cut the youth minimum wage. Compounding that problem is the likelihood of Don Brash sitting at the Cabinet table with them. Brash is an anathema to most Maori and continues to push his one law for all theme - see: Don Brash pushes 'one law for all' message again. Today they are at loggerheads over Maori language in schools - see Danya Levy's Clash over compulsory Te Reo. While the Maori Party will be keen to distance themselves from National policies and Don Brash in general, Labour and Mana are equally determined to keep them linked in voters' minds. Strategically, the Maori Party actually needs a stint in government with Labour. Another three years with National will probably put them on life support and there is no Epsom option within the Maori seats. But for the moment iPredict says that there's currently an 82% chance of at least one Maori Party MP being in the next government.
Despite their continuing rise in the polls the Greens seem to be feeling the pressure about the possibility of a coalition with the National Party. They are deliberately positioning themselves towards the centre as a fiscally responsible mainstream political party. Are they doing this to genuinely leave open the possibility of coalition with National or is it a bargaining lever with Labour should they hold the balance of power?
The answer may be that in 2011 it is about building vote share and negotiating power with Labour, but long term there does seem to be an intention to position themselves in the centre. Perhaps they'll need a further three years to soften up of their core supporters to swallow a deal with National (although most of the Greens leftwing activists departed a long time ago). If Labour can't deliver in 2014 will the Greens wait another three years?
Regardless, the heat is now on the Greens, and they continue to obfuscate about whether or not they'd support a National Government. Watch for example, Metiria Turei on TVNZ where she refuses to rule out supporting a National government while also saying that left voters can safely trust their vote to the Greens. Blogger Robert Winter has also issued this challenge: 'Will the Greens please tell us, fair and square, whether they a seek to become the one true centrist party, willing to get into bed with National for a whiff of power? All this shilly-shallying insults the voter' - see: Will National and the Greens come clean, please?. And traders on iPredict have recently been judging the chance of 'At least one Green Party MP to be a Minister in next government' to be about 20%.
Officially, the Greens still say that the only 'deal breaker' would be that National would have to change it's policy on 'country of origin food labeling'. But this week the party's official Twitter account also put forward a 'condition' that National raise the minimum wage to $15/hour (although the Greens later backtracked on that being a deal breaker for a National-Green coalition). Whether or not a formal coalition eventuates, it's certainly a foregone conclusion that the Greens will work to have a closer relationship with National after the election. In this regard it's also worth checking out Tim Watkin's The Greens' double digit strategy, which deals with the party's 'carefully crafted game plan' to 're-brand the party' and make 'it friendlier to the political centre'. Watkin says that the Greens new coalition policy is essentially a 'dog whistle to the wider electorate was that the Greens were neither a Labour party poodle nor a bunch of leftie idealists'.
Labour, of course, will need all hands on deck if they are able to form a government. If current polling holds up the Greens would be in a strong bargaining position. Despite what they say, Labour will be hoping against hope that Winston Peters makes it over the 5% threshold, because despite what he says, they would both leap at the chance of being back in government. See also: Patrick Gower's Potential coalition partners a headache for Goff.
Apparently Labour won't work with Hone Harawira and he won't work with National or Act. Harawira doesn't have much appeal to the swinging voters Goff needs to win back from National so it's no surprise that Labour is trying to keep its distance before the election. For a new party a spell on the cross benches would probably be the best option anyway, although few believe that Goff wouldn't talk to Mana if it were the difference between opposition and government. But Mana will face the same dilemma the Alliance had and the Greens are trying to resolve - how do you increase your leverage with Labour when they are your only option in government? Today Duncan Garner concludes that, Harawira will therefore be 'the most impotent bloke' in Parliament, and he should therefore have stayed with the Maori Party because it can essentially do coalition deals with anyone - see: Heard from Hone Harawira?. For a different view, see: Ian Llewellyn's Future Labour Leader Will Work With Mana: Harawira.
National's best option (apart from the almost unlimited power a majority vote would give them) is a continuation of the status quo - Maori Party off on one side, Act on the other, neither strong enough to cause them too many difficulties. Their long-term problem is that both of their coalition partners are looking decidedly sick. Act is potentially terminal in 2011 and the Maori Party face a decline to oblivion on 2014. National has its finger on the life support button for Act and must be asking 'is it worth saving?' On current polling it would probabably only bring in an extra seat and Act's long-term prognosis is dismal. The Act brand is also embarrassingly toxic to National, and Key must be tempted to pull the plug.
National desperately needs to look for new options for the future. The two obvious ones are the fledgling Conservative Party, which could possibly make it in to Parliament in 2014, but the big prize would surely be the Greens. Not only could it provide a larger number of seats, but crucially it would deprive Labour of the seats they would need to dethrone National. It is unlikely in 2011, but then so was the Maori Party/National coalition in 2005. Expect to see John Key take every opportunity to build relationships with the Greens over the next three years. In 2011 it may be a bridge too far but in 2014 it could be a major coup for National.
Act has only one option and that's National. Not only do they rely on them as a coalition partner they are reduced to begging National for political survival. The recent outburst by the New Plymouth Act Chairperson lends credence to the theory that Don Brash and John Banks have, in fact, led a National party takeover of ACT. Having sold their soul completely to National you can understand the incomprehension and frustration within ACT that National now hesitates to save them from political oblivion. But, that's politics. According to iPredict, there's currently a 62% chance of an Act MP being a minister in the next government.
A 'cup of tea' has become the symbol for electorate deals between ally parties. Today, Claire Trevett has an astute analysis of why John Key is playing the hard-to-get routine with John Banks - see: Key won't set teacups until thirsty Act is gasping. Trevett says it's 'a sure bet' that the café meeting will eventually occur. Traders on iPredict seem to agree, with the probabability of 'John Key to publicly endorse John Banks' currently being 89%. Personally I think this is too high, as there's still a decent chance that Key will decide to kill off the ailing party. Two other very good items on the issue are: Guyon Espiner's Two Johns don't make it right in Epsom and Tim Watkin's Epsom: ACT dependent on political welfare.
Another major issue of the day is National's perennially-unpopular partial-privatisation policy. Recently the party has been selling the necessity of asset sales on the need to spend the proceeds on schools and other public investment, but now it appears $400 million will actually go to benefit farmers with irrigation schemes - see: John Hartevelt's Key announces fund to boost irrigation. There cant be many votes in flogging public assets to the private sector and then gifting them the sale proceeds as well. For more on this, see Gordon Campbell's blog post, On credibility, and the government's irrigation plans.
Other especially important items today include: John Armstrong's Voter apathy now National's big enemy, the Southland Times' Editorial - Wondrous welfare, David Farrar's Anderton v Electoral Commission, Chris Trotter's Vicious Spiral, and Steven Cowan's Point of Extinction , which argues 'The problem is that Labour is providing no alternative other than an assertion that it would be a better steward of the neoliberal economy than National'. A different take on Key's success and Labour's failings can be found in Danya Levy and Paloma Migone's John Key: Safe hands, forked tongue? which uses survey research to show that Key is deemed to be vastly superior when it comes to dealing with crises and having a grasp of economic issues. Although interestingly given his popularity, Key isn't particularly trusted by voters.
Finally, each week I've been interviewing politicians on campus at the University of Otago in an election forum entitled Vote Chat. The idea behind Vote Chat is to have campaigning politicians come and talk to us about why we should vote for them, what makes them tick, what their political ideology is, and how they want to change society. But instead of just handing them a platform to speak for 30 minutes, we are trying to do something a bit different by interviewing them in front of audience, and using different ways to get audience participation such as using Twitter (the hashtag is #OUVotechat2011). And it's filmed in high definition, which means you can watch it live-streamed or watch them on YouTube here. Recent highlights include Bill English, John Minto, Simon Bridges, Grant Robertson, and Peter Dunne. Tomorrow (Friday) I'm interviewing Green MP Kevin Hague at 12 noon. Please watch online or follow on Twitter, and let me know if you have any questions for Kevin Hague.
Matthew Hooton (electionresults): New Stocks: Which parties in next Government?
Duncan Garner (TV3): Banks wants Key to show his support
Duncan Garner (TV3): Key doesn't want to scare Epsom voters
Guyon Espiner (TVNZ): Two Johns don't make it right in Epsom
Claire Trevett (NZH): Key won't set teacups until thirsty Act is gasping
Tim Watkin (Pundit): Epsom: ACT dependent on political welfare
Lyle McMahon (Stuff): Banks has 'a good chance' in Epsom: Brash
Claire Trevett (NZH): Banks and Nats - Epsom's double act in battle of the brands
Juliette Sivertsen (Newstalk ZB): It's all about cups of tea
Katie Bradford-Crozier (Newstalk ZB): Deals and cups of tea
Quentin Findlay (New masses): Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Sam Thompson (Newstalk ZB): Epsom candidates grilled by voters
Tim Watkin (Pundit): The Greens' double digit strategy
Yvette McCullough (Newstalk ZB): Greens confident after new polls
Robert Winter (Idle Thoughts): Will National and the Greens come clean, please?
Paul Harper (NZH): 'No environment. No economy.' Robyn Malcolm's Facebook plea to reject Nats